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NTEU to take the University of Wollongong to the Supreme Court over Ramsay Centre negotiations

The NTEU alleges that the University has breached its own rules in fast-tracking the proposed Western Civilisation course

A photo of the windows of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, which reads 'law courts'

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has lodged a claim in the Supreme Court of NSW against the University of Wollongong (UoW) and its Vice Chancellor, Paul Wellings, over the Vice Chancellor’s decision to expedite approval for a Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation sponsored degree.

The NTEU is seeking a declaration that the Vice Chancellor’s approval of the degree, which occurred late last year, is invalid. It is also seeking to prevent any further steps being made to implement the decision.

The NTEU alleges that the Vice Chancellor entered into an agreement with the Ramsay Centre to introduce a new course in contravention of its own rules and procedures. The UoW Course and Subject Approval Procedures ­ – New Offerings and Discontinuations policy states that expedited approval can only be used where there is a “demonstrated benefit to the University in fast-tracking the approval without compromising… the reputation of the University.”

NTEU National President Dr Alison Barnes alleges that, given the public controversy surrounding the Ramsay Centre, the approval poses a serious risk to the academic reputation of the University. Dr Barnes also criticised University management for failing to consult with staff.

“This decision shows that the University is run by management discretion instead of a commitment to academic quality,” Dr Barnes said.

“We are taking this unprecedented action because of the gradual and persistent erosion of academic governance at our universities in recent decades. Corporate governance and managerial prerogative are displacing collegiality – and it is time to ‘draw a line in the sand’.”

The decision to approve the course, made in December 2018, was executed without consultation with the University’s Academic Senate, staff or students. At the time of the decision, Honi reported that Dr Marcelo Svirsky, a member of UoW’s Academic Senate, had not been made aware of any official discussion open to a public forum.

The news comes less than two weeks after the USyd NTEU branch rallied against managerialism, citing the University’s decision to enter into negotiations with the Ramsay Centre as an example of the will of staff being ignored. According to a staff survey conducted last year, nearly half of University staff believe a deal with the Ramsay Centre should not go ahead.

There has been little public disclosure from USyd about its dealings with the Ramsay Centre since the release of a draft memorandum of understanding in September last year. However, the Centre has confirmed that negotiations are still “ongoing”.